Deeply, horrendously awful: On Wednesday night, Erin Burnett watched the presidential debate with a group of undecided voters.
How horrible is our political culture? At one point, Burnett described the moments in the debate these voters objected to most. Host Wolf Blitzer said these were “the low points in the debate for President Obama and Governor Romney.”
Standing among her undecideds, Burnett began with a statement by Obama. His statement was perfectly accurate:
BURNETT (10/3/12): Now let's get to some of the lows, Wolf. And there were a couple of moments that our focus group at least reacted very negatively to.Hopeless. Obama’s didn’t do a sensational job explaining that complicated point. He even said a few things which were wrong or misleading.
BLITZER: And let's take a look at some of those lows, Erin. The low points in the debate for President Obama and Governor Romney.
Let's begin with the president first. It came at 9:18 PM Eastern, when he was talking about taxes but seemed to take a dig at Governor Romney. Men and women both rejected the president's argument. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: For 18 months, he's been running on this tax plan, and now five weeks before the election he is saying that his big, bold idea is, "Never mind." And the fact is that if you are lowering the rates the way you describe, Governor, then it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. That was the president's lowest moment, according to our focus group our in Colorado.
But in the bulk of that statement, Obama was accurately stating the problem with Romney’s absurd tax proposal:
Romney says he will lower tax rates by twenty percent. At the same time, he says he’ll close so many tax loopholes that his plan will be revenue neutral.
But according to the Tax Policy Center, this proposal is mathematically impossible. There simply aren’t enough tax loopholes or tax deductions to balance off the revenue that would be lost in those rate cuts for high-income earners. To keep the proposal revenue neutral, middle-income earners would have to pay more in taxes.
The Tax Policy Center explained this matter in early August. As we noted at the time, the Washington Post and the New York Times devoted very little coverage to this seminal point.
Two weeks ago, we did a workshop for some federal managers. We were surprised to see that very few of these bright, successful federal employees were familiar with Romney’s proposal.
In all likelihood, Burnett’s undecideds had little idea what Obama was talking about. And sure enough! Neither Blitzer nor Burnett made any attempt to tell them!
Burnett’s undecideds got upset when Obama made an accurate statement. It was his lowest moment! As Blitzer continued, he and Burnett explained where Romney rubbed them wrong:
BLITZER (continuing directly): Governor Romney's low point happened about halfway through the debate at 9:43 PM Eastern, when he talked about cuts to entitlements.The undecideds got upset when Romney kept making that claim about the $716 billion. It was his lowest moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: But on Medicare, for current retirees, he's cutting $716 billion from the program. Now he says by not overpaying hospitals and providers. Actually just going to them and saying, we're going to reduce the rates you get paid across the board. Everybody is going to get a lower rate. That's not just going after places where there's abuse, that's saying we're cutting the rates. Some 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won't take any more Medicare patients under that scenario.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's go back to Erin. Erin, what did you make of that?
BURNETT: All right. There was some real frustration here. When we were all talking earlier I think you all can agree, we said when they got negative, everybody said, “Oh, gosh, I hated this, I hated that?” Fair description? OK. Fair description!
Let me just ask Chris (INAUDIBLE) here. You were frustrated when we just heard Romney talking about the $716 billion. That got to you.
WOMAN NAMED CHRIS: It got to me because it was like that was the only figure he continually threw out. And it was like, for me, as someone who—I have a small business, and I don't have health insurance anymore because I just turned 26, so luckily I was able to be on my parents' insurance for so long. Yet you're throwing out this figure of this number that's going to affect me at some point, but you're saying it only—you know, because you have a number to give from President Obama as opposed to I really don't have a figure to get from you because you've been working on state level and not federal.
BURNETT: So it's frustration there.
Full disclosure: We semi-agree! For us, that repetitive claim by Romney was the lowest point of the evening by far. But we were disgusted with Obama, who just sat there, head hung low, while Romney kept repeating this statement.
Romney’s dollar figure is accurate, of course, but Obama refused to explain the obvious. To wit:
There is a lot of excess spending within the Medicare program—within our whole medical system. It’s the job of any president to wring that excess spending out of the system.
Paul Ryan’s recent budgets have included these same adjustments in Medicare spending. In theory, these adjustments eliminate over-payments to health care providers without reducing services to Medicare recipients.
We were disgusted when Obama kept hanging his head and refusing to state these basic points. But according to Burnett, these undecideds got “frustrated” because of the “negativity” here.
Translation: If Obama had explained those points, they might have been more upset!
At any rate, Burnett and Blitzer made no attempt to explain the facts behind Romney’s repeated claim. Then, as Burnett continued, we hit the lowest point of this truly horrible segment.
Burnett invited another voter to criticize Obama. Then, she explained what these undecided voters really want:
BURNETT (continuing directly): And I also wanted to come over here quickly to Carroll Ward. You're a teacher. And there you—take a hold of that. You were frustrated when Barack Obama was attacking Mitt Romney there.Burnett is one of the genuine flyweights of the millionaire press corps. But even for her, these final exchanges are simply gruesome. As she closed, she stressed the idea that these voters wanted more information about these issues. But she and Blitzer made no attempt to provide any info at all!
WARD: Yes, I was frustrated because the president just really didn't seem to listen to Romney when he was giving his plan, and he just kept sticking on that $5 trillion and the $2 trillion, and not listening is one of the biggest things that is a problem in this debate and in this election.
BURNETT: One final thing I wanted to just make a point here, Wolf, that everyone here felt. How many of you felt—I'll just walk out here, felt that you wished you got even more information from these candidates, that they didn't fully answer the questions? I mean everybody.
And that's something that stood out here. And people were saying afterward they wanted more information from the candidates. So I think that's something that stands out.
You can scan CNN’s coverage for yourself to see if the channel ever made any attempt to provide that information. But in this segment with Burnett, we see the horrible underside of the interaction between American voters and flyweight pseudo-journalists:
Many voters are under-informed about the statements the candidates make. Inevitably, this is part of the way the world works.
Voters go to work every day. Inevitably, they will need assistance from journalists to become better informed. In theory, news organizations exist to help these voters understand these issues better.
But our pseudo-journalists make a fetish of keeping these voters barefoot and clueless. Burnett and Blitzer were terribly horrible in this woeful but typical segment.
How does modern "journalism" work? Blitzer and Burnett showed us this night:
Obama made an accurate statement. It was his lowest moment!